Nandita Das

Learning to Unschool

  • August 1, 2013

My early July went by in patient sessions in my son’s pre-primary-Saifee, his first step into a school. It is a lovely little place tucked in Walkeshwar, Mumbai. They take children only at 2 years and 9 months, and only if they have not gone to any play-school before. I was told that it was easy to spot those who had hidden this pre condition, as the children were more aggressive than the real first timers because of the forced sharing these little toddlers were subjected to. I got to know this while waiting on the bench outside, where parents (read mostly mothers) sit till their child gets settled, a tradition that has been followed for the last 50 years.

The current lot of mothers sat with a book, hoping to read and use this ‘free’ or ‘me’ time judiciously, but all we ended up doing was sharing our stories and advising each other on how to bring up children. The anxiety with which mothers tend to raise their kids is telling of our times. At every step, the question that looms large is, “am I doing it right?” I wonder if we have lost our instinct, in the pursuit of ‘fitting in’? And so, “while sending children to a play-way kindergarten is fine, they have to finally go to a school that gets them ready for the big bad world”. But why would we even want them to fit in that kind of a world, instead of creating their own or joining hands with those who have chosen to be out of the race?

After a few days on the bench, the conversations decreased and the inner chatter increased. I sat there watching the children paint, play and sing. They were happy. I wondered, why couldn’t learning always be fun? Why did it have to be so structured, regimental and standardised? Isn’t every child unique with his/her interest and talent? Why isn’t education more holistic and why is it all about getting through exams? Is it a surprise that most children don’t find learning joyful or that we find what we studied in school rather irrelevant today? As I pondered these questions, I felt more and more despondent. Fewer and fewer schools came to my mind as options.

I have always dreamt of starting a school, my wishful place of learning. The prerequisites would be plenty of open spaces and closeness to nature. I am convinced that we would have been instinctively more environmentally responsible had we spent more time with plants, animals and insects. Observing them, seeing their life closely intertwined with ours. A major part of learning would entail painting, singing, dancing, poetry, theatre; the arts, which would organically make the children more creative, expressive and, above all, happy. Scientists, architects, potters, singers, all will be born of this journey, as each child’s interest will be the guiding force of the curriculum. Whatever they do, there will be a humane and sensitive perspective to it. This dream may sound too utopian, but world over, and even in India, there are schools that are looking at other ways of teaching and have managed to fight the race. But yes, they are too few and far between.

These days I also find myself veering towards home-schooling, which is rare in India, but not unheard of. The more I read about it and the more I meet home-schoolers, the more convinced I am of this choice. After all, much of the learning happens in informal spaces, and as John Holt, the educator and proponent of home-schooling and unschooling, says, “Living is learning, and when kids are living fully and energetically and happily they are learning a lot, even if we don’t always know what it is.” While there are no easy answers, there is some solace in asking imperative questions. I have always believed that if you are wandering, you are not necessarily lost.

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11